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Word for 18th January 2010

“ QUINE n lass, girl”

QUINE

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Quine goes back to Old English cwen, meaning a woman, wife or, as in modern English, a queen. An obsolete spelling of this word, quean, shows more clearly the history of this word. The earlier quotations in A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue refer mainly to young women in service or of restricted financial means. There even seems to be a tendency to use the word in conjunction with harlot as in The Perth Kirk Sessions for 1623: “He hard the said Beatrix call him auld harlot cairle and he callit hir harlot quyne”, or in the phrase “methie fared quine” (maggoty-faced) as in the Cullen Kirk Sessions for 1671. Burns in Tam o Shanter is, predictably, appreciative: “Now Tam, O Tam! had thae been queans, A’ plump and strapping in their teens!” and in a poem of 1875 A. G. Murdoch uses it of the more affluent: “Weel-buskit dames and tocher’t queans Come seldom cheap to ony”. It was in many instances simply a word for daughter or female child but at the same time it remained in common use for a female servant and this came to be irrespective of age as shown in this quotation from The Ettrick Shepherd in The Brownie of Bodsbeck (1818): “He had hired a wastlin, auldish quean”. A sense of moral turpitude resurfaces in the 1802 Child version of the ballad The Laird o Drum: “For I'm our low to be yer bride, An yer quine I'll never be”. Like last week’s word, loun, quine has an history of multiple meanings throughout Scotland with a gradual restriction of geographical spread to the North-East, where is completely at home in this delightful picture of female childhood from Sheena Blackhall Wittgenstein's Web (1996) in which “Quines war stottin their baas aff the bikeshed waa, singin daft wee rhymes”.

Scots Word of the Week is written by Chris Robinson of Scottish Language Dictionaries.

This week's Word is spoken by Michael Hance.